[Air-l] Copyright and fair use: a short overview

Dean Rehberger rehberger at mail.matrix.msu.edu
Thu May 24 06:28:32 PDT 2001

I begin by saying that I fully support copyright law and I do not think we
should reproduce articles on the list (for a number of reasons beyond
copyright).  It is also important for the lost and listowners to establish
their own rules.  Where I work, we have hundreds of lists with tons of
subscribers and there are specific guidelines about a number of things
including republishing.

With this said, as a group, particularly one that deals with new media, I
don't think we can rest with ideas that the copyright law is relatively
clear and is used to protect authors and scholarship.

It is pretty clear that copyright law is extended (in length of time) to
protect the mouse and serves primarily to protect profits and corporate
interests (few of the battles going on now are in the interest of scholars).
I have seen panels of lawyers with dozens of years of copyright and
courtroom experience take very different views on issues of copyright and
fair use in the new media.  Recent cases of Napster, Tiger Woods and Three
Stooges, point to great diversity of opinion and protections.  While fair
use may apply somewhat to text, it is very difficult when it comes to music,
images, sound, and video. (Many I know who do work on music and culture,
pull out their hair at trying to do any scholarship on lyrics and scores and
have often been stopped in their work and publications).

But two things are most important (in terms of accepting the simple view
that copyright law is relatively clear and is meant to protect us):

1) The laws simply do not work very well because they are based on a print
economy so that even the simple act of browsing a site means a violation
since a complete copy is made of the site.

2) While we may argue that copyright protects the scholars, what has
protected the scholar most is lack of profits.  The law has not paid too
much attention to us because what we produce in terms of articles and books
usually lose money.  But now that we produce software and web sites and
online course materials, suddenly the universities are taking an interests
and there are real battles over who owns what we produce--do we own anything
produced on a computer that is paid for by our institutions?

Dean Rehberger
Associate Director of Matrix.

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